By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters) - Western U.S. states boast the lowest rates and most rapid decline in lung cancer in the nation as fewer people smoke cigarettes, a study released on Thursday showed.
Over nearly a decade, from 1999 to 2008, rates of new lung cancer cases dropped among men in 35 states and women in six states, with residents in the West leading the pack, the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The results show that by curbing smoking, lung cancer rates could decline to levels not seen in a century, producing significant health care cost savings and saving lives, CDC researchers said.
"What the report is showing is that we are really turning around one of our most significant modern day epidemics, and that is lung cancer," said Marcus Plescia, director of CDC's cancer prevention and control division.
Cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke caused most lung cancer deaths in the United States, the CDC said.
The deadly disease is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in the country, it said.
Lung cancer is linked closely with smoking patterns, with declines in lung cancer rates emerging as soon as five years after smoking rates drop, the CDC said.
States that invested in tobacco control strategies such as higher tobacco prices, media campaigns and 100 percent smoke-free policies saw larger declines in smoking, it said.
"It's an investment that really, really pays off, not just in life loss, but for fiscal savings, too," Plescia said.
The study is the first time the CDC has broken down smoking and lung cancer trends at a state level.
While lung cancer rates among men continued to fall, it was only from 2006 to 2008 that women showed decreases nationwide, bucking a years-long rising trend.
Lung cancer incidence among women decreased in the West, stabilized in the Midwest and was climbing in the Northeast between 1999 and 2008.
At the same time, lung cancer among men decreased in 35 of 44 states analyzed and remained stable in nine others.
According to the CDC analysis, many states with high ratios of people who quit smoking were in the West and Northeast.
Findings showed the South was plagued with higher rates of smoking and lung cancer cases than other regions.
Researchers said the Southeast has shown the least progress and probably has the weakest tobacco control programs.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)